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Mastering Anger/Am I addicted to anger?


Ever since I was 10~ my anger has been out of control. I remember throwing plates at my mom, telling her to go drown herself etc. daily.
As I entered my teens this anger manifested itself by throwing chairs at teachers and always getting into ridiculous arguments with people.

It happens on the internet too, whenever I discuss a topic with someone, as long as I know I am right, then I will go off the handle and tell the person that the world would be better off dead.

Then 1 hour goes by and I look back in shame like "Really? You told someone to kill themselves because they were wrong about a tiny factoid?"

I have told my self that I need to stop this and I really do want to, but then suddenly I find myself in the middle of abusive trash talk again and in that instant it feels so right and justified. I literally feel like the person should indeed stop existing for being dumb.

I never go completely off the handle with my girlfriend, but even here I notice a pattern where I am almost addicted to having a grudge towards her. If she forgets something or whatever my mind will latch onto it and almost subconsciously I will start a fight just to get "release".

I hate it as it has cost me so much in my life and it never accomplish ANYTHING. I can be 100% correct in a argument, but due to the fact that I start shouting and saying unreasonable things (like "you should die") I will be percieved as wrong rather than right. So it's not like it's a effective tool to get people to change their minds either.

I do fear that I have IED, but what can be done about it?

Hello, Paul,

You have developed quite a problem. Yes, I would say we could call you "addicted to anger." Yes, I believe you might qualify for the IED diagnosis. It is, however, imperative for such a diagnosis that you eliminate the possibility of other problems, especially that of bipolar disorder. For this reason, my first suggestion is that you find a good doctor AND a good therapist in your area, and make sure you do not have a medical issue (such as, possibly, a brain tumor) or a psychological issue (such as bipolar disorder). Get as much information as you can about what is going on. This does not, BTW, mean you necessarily should start taking medication to deal with this issue. It means you need more information.

That said, here's what I have to say about the issue if it is, indeed, an issue with anger and not an issue with another medical or psychological condition.

From what you have told me, I'd say the basic issue is that the adults around you as you were growing up either were not (or did not exercise it) strong enough for you. A lot of the anger could have been a direct result of adults not setting good boundaries on you (for example, "it's okay for you to feel angry; but throwing plates is unacceptable and will not be tolerated here"). I believe you were reacting to the ENERGY being given out by the adults around you. As a child, I'm guessing, you felt very frustrated. It is as if the adults around you did not "step up". You needed them to be a container for you as you grew up. You eventually came to the conclusion that you were stronger than they were. To prove it, you started pushing them around. Anger is a very convenient tool to use for pushing others who are passive around. As you are finding now, however, it may be an okay tool as a child, but when you become an adult, it can become more of a "poison" in your life.

This condition is, in my opinion, correctable. It will take some effort on your part. It will be easier if you find a strong and good therapist as a "partner" in the work you need to do.

Anger results when we have an idea or picture in our head about "how things are supposed to be." When that picture gets violated, we get angry. People relate to these ideas/pictures in the form of what I call "shoulds." We think: "Girlfriend, you should not make unnecessary mistakes." When she does, anger results. We think: "Work colleague, you should do your part of the job and not slack off in your duties." When the work colleague fails to do his/her job, anger results. Notice that in what you wrote me you talked about "when I know I am right." This, to me, is a reflection of the notion that you have "pictures"in you, you believe them to be "right" and when others violate those pictures, your internal mechanisms give you permission to fly into rage.

Interestingly, all emotions are energy ("energy in motion"). They are designed as tools to help us navigate life. Each emotion has a special signal for us. Anger "signals" us that we have "shoulds" that are being violated. The important thing to remember is that YOUR "SHOULDS" COULD NOT BE VIOLATED IF THEY WERE CORRECT! Anger, you see, really serves the purpose of showing us where we carry mis-perceptions about what "should" be happening in our world! The real issue at this stage, for you, is your own rigidity. I don't say this with judgment, just as information for you. Inside of you, you "rigidly" hold onto what you believe to be "right." If you were correct, those ideas would never be violated. You getting angry is showing you where you need to become less rigid.

Let me give you an example. You're driving on the freeway; and other drivers are cutting you off. You get angry, because "other drivers should not cut me off on the freeway." The truth is, however, that some drivers on the freeway DO cut other drivers off! So, your expectation about what you will encounter on the freeway is incorrect. Let's say that at least 1/3 of all freeway drivers cut other off. When you can "update" your idea to include this fact, instead of getting angry, you will find yourself saying something like this: "Oh, you're one of the 1/3 of all drivers on the freeway that cut people off. I don't like it; but I know you're out there!" In this case, you will experience less (or no) anger.

Try this as an experiment. Every day for three weeks, keep track of whatever you feel angry about. Ask yourself: "What is the 'should' I'm carrying that sets me up to feel anger?" Write that "should" down. Check with yourself: "Is this really true?" If your answer is "no," then look for what IS true and write that down next to the "should". Every time you feel anger, identify and rewrite the "should" or "should not" that you find. See what happens.

The amount of anger you have, and the years of practice in letting this anger go "all over" others, is not at all healthy for you and could easily lead to the kind of abuse of others that could land you in a lot of trouble. Therefore, I suggest you get to working on this right away. Not all therapists understand anger in the same way I have laid out for you here; but they do have experience helping people move past anger.

In terms of reading, on my website ( you can purchase a downloadable booklet "Bouncing Back from Anger and Argument" and a CD "Stop Anger Now". Also, Harriet Goldhor Lerner's book "The Dance of Anger" is a really great resource.

It also sounds like you have an internal "line" that functions in your experience with anger. What happens with the line is that you have an internal, feeling "line"--and when it gets crossed (by what others do or by what is happening), you give yourself permission (internally) to get angry. A lot of people have such a line--I used to have one, too. What I discovered for myself is that there really IS NO THING, PERSON OR SITUATION that really "deserves" me giving myself permission to rage and attack. Setting your intention to give up that "line"is a great start. Giving yourself something else to do at that moment (such as asking "What else could be true here? or "How else could I look at the world?" or "What can I do to be less rigid with this?") is the next step. If you make ANY CHANGE in how you've been reacting to your world, give yourself appreciation and gratitude!

The operational principle is "Pay attention, not to what you want to overcome, but to what you want to BECOME." Instead of staying worried or focused on your patterns of anger, start building new patterns of what you'd like to do instead! STAY FOCUSED ON WHAT YOU WANT TO BECOME. Even if you "slip" and fall into the old pattern with anger, when you see that, just say "That's not my intention. What do I intend to do in such a situation? Okay, then 'next time' that's what I intend to do." Again, ANY movement is progress. Focus on the movement, be grateful to yourself for it, and you will slowly move to new behaviors. This may take quite a while. Don't give up!

One more thing I would suggest for you is to start developing your ACTUAL power. Real power is not "power over others" (which you're attempting to have when you become angry). Real power is power over yourself! We have power over ourselves when we allow ourselves to follow what is in our heart, set personal boundaries, work masterfully with our own emotions (i.e., we are in charge of them and don't allow them to run us!), and operate with integrity. Again, focus on BECOMING truly powerful, and the "faux power" you've been exercising via anger will drop away (over time).

It took me two years of hard work to effectively change the anger patterns in me, and a few years longer to come to the point I can say I'm a "recovered angry person." Don't give up!

I hope this is helpful for you. Please rate this answer before you leave this site.

If you have further questions, or need clarification, write me again, please. In the meantime, do everything you can to get assistance. You CAN do this on your own, but it usually goes much faster and easier when you are in partnership with a therapist.

My best,


Mastering Anger

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Ilene L. Dillon, M.S.W.


As a "Recovering Angry Person" and psychotherapist, I have thoroughly explored Anger and its related emotions, hurt, fear, depression and guilt. I'll give a free half-hour of coaching to anyone who can ask me a question I cannot address!


36 years as a family, individual and group psychotherapist. 15 years of teaching for California Probation Officers and Psychotherapists. Author of "Exploring Anger with Your Child" (now "The ABCs of Anger in its updated version). Personal, clinical and group work with anger, including in the parenting arena.

C.A.M.F.T. (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) N.S.A. (National Speakers Association) Professional Member since 1984

Magazines: Woman's Day, Personal Excellence, Care Notes Newspapers: Marin Independent Journal, The FAX, San Francisco Chronicle, in-house publications for therapy organizations Books and CDs: Total of 17 published works (

M.S.W. from University of California in Berkeley Two California Licenses: Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker Lifetime Jr. College Instructor License in California Host of Internet radio program (since 2004)Full Power Living, focused on "awakening the world to the power and importance of human emotions"

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